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The Gunman (2015) Review

Updated on March 27, 2015

It’s a $20 gourmet cheeseburger. It’s a Tommy Hilfiger suit you find cheap at Ross with a missing button. It’s an Ali/Frazier fight in someone’s cramped and musty basement rather than MGM Grand. You haven’t come because it’s healthy or even very well made. You’ve come for the heavyweights. And guess what? It’s worth it.

That’s right, the knockout combo of Penn, Elba, Winstone, Bardem, and Rylance have come to rescue you from being slammed with yet another yawning, poorly written, pointless action movie. And what more could you expect from the director of Taken and the screenwriter of Dredd, two overblown pieces of action porn requiring a complete shutdown of the brain? The difference here, though, is that the story is dressed up in a shiny gown of important political issues.

It’s shameless of these filmmakers to open with a newsreel of the wartorn Democratic Republic of the Congo, and 2 minutes later introduce one of the foremost conflicts of the story, a god damn love triangle.

Seriously? This is what they want to focus on? A damsel in distress, two burly men fighting over a beautiful woman whose token humanitarian traits go completely undeveloped as she is reduced to wimpering and following the orders they shout at her? The Congo itself fades into the background as nothing more than a “bad place” where contractors do “bad things” that come back to haunt them. Not a single perspective of a member of this society becomes an important voice in its issues. How long can we continue to take this outdated, ethnocentric, sexist, white male privilege approach to storytelling before people involved in its making begin to throw up their hands and call bullshit?

I say this because it needs to be said. Change is a long time coming. Rant aside, however, if you can compartmentalize all this you’ll be better off, and more able to enjoy the true fruits of the labor: the acting chops and the action.

The supporting actors steal the show from an equally glorious lead. There’s just so much to relish! Javier Bardem gives his character a full arc with relatively little screen time, from a jealous roughneck contractor in the Congo to a jealous and sheltered rich boy in Spain. It’s a joy to watch him butt heads with Penn. Winstone carries stories on his shoulders simply sitting still in a chair and having a conversation. You fall in love with the guy and fear him in a single breath. Elba (whose role is criminally small) delivers just the right amount of “you don’t want to know what I know, so back away” attitude with a perfectly disingenuous smile. And veteran theatre actor Mark Rylance plays Rumpelstiltskin with his threadbare lines and pulls you unwittingly into his twisted eyes. Layers upon layers of character abound.

With all this glitz and glamour, it’d be easy to overlook Penn, who takes a hotshot character and plays him as an understated underdog. You can see the PTSD wearing away at his body and mind. You can sense his intensity of focus and knowledge of self-defense as he dispatches countless goons. And you can feel his regret after the fact. He makes this incredibly skilled contractor a believable human being, and it makes all the difference in the world.

And yeah, the action is intense and well-choreographed for the most part. So why deprive yourself of a gourmet cheeseburger? I say, if you’re in the mood for this kind of flick, you could do far worse.


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